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It’s Almost Photography Season

Actually, every season is photography season.  Some seasons, like the fall, just make it more obvious.  It’s hot today so instead of shooting (a cowardly approach to be sure), I ended up going through some old images from Worcester.  These are from a location that everyone in Worcester knows about, Elm Park.  A jewel for the City. One of the first great urban parks, created, after an extended struggle, with aesthetics in mind.  The bridge at Elm Park (one of two, but this is the more classical location) is often used by couples and wedding photographers, because it’s just so visually pleasing.  This shot was not cooked in Photoshop.  The colors there, if you catch the right day, are really this intense and the vibrancy is made all that much more compelling by the reflections from the Pond, if the wind is perfectly calm.  (Click on all the images below for a better view.)

Here’s the other bridge in Elm Park, and one of our favorite visitors to the Park, a Great Blue Heron.

The magnificent birds don’t seem to be bothered by human presence or human pollution.

The Park, like all ecosystems, is both resilient and fragile at the same time.  This Park gets a lot of use by the citizenry, some who honor it, and some who don’t.

But humans aren’t the only challenge the Park faces.  If you look carefully at this crop if another shot of the bicycle, you’ll see that the Pond is loaded with Milfoil, an invasive species that threatens to choke the life out of many ponds in this area.

The City ultimately treated the Pond for the problem and it now seems to be under control.  However, that costs money which the City and the taxpayers had to provide.   But, we have a responsibility for our environment.  We’ve created it, and hopefully we’ll take care of it.

The Biggest Threat to Quabbin Forests

There’s significant controversy in Massachusetts now regarding forest management and threats to the wonderful resource that is our forest. Unfortunately, that threat can come in many forms.  I was out today at Hanks Meadow, inside the Quabbin Park.  It’s a lovely spot even on a cloudy windy day, but here’s what we saw looking across the Reservoir.   This is Pine Needle Scale.  An invasive organism that is killing certain types of pine trees throughout the Reservoir Watershed.  Where do such hazards come from?  Invasive species and diseases represent a growing threat to our natural resources largely because of domestic and international trade and travel.  (Just ask the folks in Worcester Massachusetts whose trees were disseminated by the Asian Long Horn Beetle, which is carried in cargo ships in wooden palettes.)   More on the hazards of  being a tree in upcoming posts.  This is a panorama so you’ll have to click on the image to view it properly.

Here’s another image from a different part of the Quabbin Park, near the Spillway.

This thing is quite serious.  That is NOT fall foliage.

On Printing and The Dangers of the Digital Age

This post is about printing or rather attempting to print.  Just got back from spending three extremely productive days with Bob Korn, of Bob Korn Imaging. Bob is a “master printer” for lack of a better term, who I first had contact with at the Center for Digital Imaging Art at Boston University.  I happened to be in the print room while Bob was working with one of his classes.  It was clear to me in about the first ten minutes that Bob worked from the print, not from the image on the screen.  (He uses that image for help, but it’s the print that matters.)  I thought to myself “I have to know more about how this works.”

In fact,  I had been increasingly frustrated by my printing outputs.  I was using the best tech, but I kept having the sense that I was getting worse, not better at this craft.  I remembered one of my favorite shots from a location folks in the Westborough and Grafton areas of Massachusetts will recognize, Tufts Veterinary School.  This shot was made around 2004 on an old, noisy Kodak 14NX camera with a lens that no one likes.  I didn’t have a clue what I was doing but it came out alright I thought.

The image has been well received even though it is quite simple, because I think people feel comfortable walking into the scene.  Especially if you’ve been there, you know what that feeling is like.  It’s not a dramatic, it is peaceful, quiet.  But what gives a picture that feeling?  What makes someone feel that they can just walk into the image?  It really has to be lifelike, which means getting the overall sense of lightness (or density as photographers describe it), contrast (not too much, which I am always guilty of), and color (interesting, but not too saturated), correct. All of the technology at our disposal makes it so easy to make images that are heavy, contrasty and highly saturated.  The work with Bob was about finding balance between visual stimulation and the natural experience of the image, of photography.

It’s hard to see this stuff on the darn computer screen, which starts out more contrasty that real life.  I realized as soon as I started Bob’s class (actually he helped me realize this), that I was relying too much on the tech, and not enough on the paper, the eye, and perhaps most importantly, my own gut reaction. Here are a few images, some already posted, that have evolved with my new workflow.  Again, on the screen, it may be hard to notice.  I can assure you that on paper, it’s not.

This image has been vexing to me since I took it last winter.  It was taken on a foggy day, in the late fall.  I’ve broken a bunch of rules here:  showing so much of an overcast sky and putting the subject smack in the middle of the frame.  I’ve tried every crop in the book.  This is pretty much as it was out of the camera, with just some adjustments in Photoshop levels to keep it light, a touch of contrast, and slight adjustment of the color cast.  Not much else.  Here are a couple more, also from the Quabbin:

This last one is a bit more saturated, but this is pretty much how it looked that day.  The reds in the foliage were extremely intense, but the fog added a lightness to the experience.  Fog doesn’t intensify contrast, it diminishes contrast.  Keeping the image light is the only way to keep the feeling intact.  Again, only three levels in photoshop were in play here, and I made no “local adjustments” (Photographer speak for making adjustments by “painting” them in with a brush, in Photoshop.)  Too many local adjustments create the risk that different parts of the image will start to separate and that the color transitions will not appear natural, something else I came to understand with Bob’s help.  Those of you who are self-educated printers, relying on books and DVD’s, will note just how much this advice contradicts the popular “wisdom” about the value of local corrections.

If you’re interested in improving your ability to print, particularly to make prints that give the viewer a natural invitation to enter the scene, I highly recommend Bob’s workshops, which you can read about on his website above.  You will find it transformative.  Bob’s also a very nice guy.  But don’t assume from that his critiques are not robust, they are.  But they are offered in the spirit of “let’s see if you can do better,” something every photographer needs.

Gate 16 at the Quabbin Reservoir – New Panorama

Gate 16 is off Route 202 in Shutesbury, MA.  The gate itself is pretty nondescript and it’s easy to miss.  There is parking in front of the gate though.  Then a short half mile walk through the forest takes you to a wonderful surprise.  Standing on the shore of the right Reservoir, you’ll have a stunning view in one of the most expansive and yet peaceful settings you’ll ever find.  I feel blessed by the opportunity to experience such grandure, just an hour’s ride west of Worcester.  Have a look….

Why Infrared for Trees?

People may be surprised by the look of these “black and white” images. The leaves are typically closer to white.  The reason for that is that the original image capture is done with a camera, in this case a Nikon D200, which has been “converted” from one that captures in normal color to one that captures in infrared.  Any thing that reflects infrared light will appear bright.  Chlorophyll which of course can be found in the leaves of trees, readily reflects infrared light, giving the leaves the apparent brightness that you see here.  (This particular camera was converted by a Life Pixel , one of the leaders in the field.  The cost is not great.)

So, why infrared?  Ironically, by highlighting the foliage, infrared also shows off the trunk, at least as long as there’s any sun around.  The trunk is less reflective of infrared light, and so stands out in all kinds of weather. So much of the story of a tree can be told by the trunk.  It’s the truck that gives the tree character, that tells you about the problems the tree has faced (lightening, disease, dog you know what, lack of sun and whole host of other challenges), the tree’s job, the tree’s age, and ultimately the trunk represents a testament to the life that has passed out of the tree when it’s time comes.  Of course, for great trees, that time can be quite long.  In the city, trees tend to live less than twenty years.  But most of the trees you see here have been around much longer.  Not everyone likes the IR capture of imagery, but for me, IR allows me to convey something of what I feel like when I’m interacting with a great tree, even one whose time has passed.  These images are all from recent trips to Elm and Institute Parks, in Worcester, MA. Click on the images for a larger view.